Cold morning, warm jacket

Thursday, 5:21 AM, ruminating on a snippet from yesterday.

To give thanks is among the most recurring exhortations in the bible, and I’ve struggled with it since the beginning of my journey. I’m terribly un-thankful, a lot of the time.

I’m ashamed of this. I want to be grateful. My life and the comfortable world I inhabit are chock full of blessings from morning to night, and I say thanks for them at least once in a day. Feeling grateful, though, happens less than I’d like to admit.

But this morning a sharp reality check jolted me into a deeper awareness of just how abundant is the abundance in my life. It wasn’t a brush with death or anything. Just a sudden, precisely aimed pinch, lovingly issued by the Holy Spirit.

My family will tell you, I hate to be cold. And mornings are often COLD where I live, even in summer. Well, we’re now into autumn, as your calendar has probably alerted you, and I don’t go anywhere without a jacket.

It was still dark when I got out of bed and reached for the soft hoodie I usually throw on, but instead of the cozy, familiar zip-up, I found I was holding a mere thin t-shirt that I had lazily left next to it, the night before.

I scornfully dropped it as if it had insulted me on some level(!) and switched to grab the jacket – when a pointed question suddenly popped into my mind: What if that shirt were the only option I had?

I pictured struggling to pull on this puny t-shirt as a buffer against the morning chill. Top layer? Bottom? It would fail either way to keep me warm.

Then stark scenarios of my house without heat ran through my mind. Rather than fill me with fear, these images chastened me, instilling deep gratitude.

I thought of countless people who’d faced – still face – the sobering challenge over the generations. No instant heat. The constant need to find fuel for the fire; the fire that requires constant tending to beat back the relentless cold.  The possibility, furthermore, of no home at all. No heat at all.

For the blessing of a heated home, I humbly thank you, God.

I thank You also for kindly teaching gratitude to me, whose unappreciativeness must be staggering to you; yet you grace my life with both the teaching and the warmth.

May I share this gift in some way, through You, with You, in You today. Amen.

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Verse note: Psalm 111: 1

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A road out of a storm

storm clouds

Wednesday, 7:26 a.m.

The storm of emotions had swelled and surged for weeks, finally making “landfall” in the middle of the night Monday.

The “eye” of it was the 8-year-old’s Not Sleeping. He’s been Not Sleeping because of fears – huge, irrational Fears that, for whatever reason and by whoever’s fault, have sunk their fangs into his thoughts with the clench of a chupacabra(Sigh. I have only theories on the source. And if anyone’s wondering, trust me, I have employed every holistic, faith-based, scientifically-proven help-your-child-sleep tactic and technique in the book.)

A child’s Not Sleeping can result in a mother’s Not Sleeping – which in our house equals the mutation of Loving Mother into Hideous Yelling Gargoyle Mother who would arguably benefit from an actual exorcism. Many nights in a row it might give a CPS agent pause if they were to happen upon the scene in the 8-year-old’s bedroom.

Monday, in the middle of the “storm,” in the middle of the night, broken down and utterly out of ideas or solutions or even effort, my mind gave up. I had nothing left to fling at the situation. In a moment of Surrender so complete it didn’t even feel like surrender, it just was surrender, I could only Listen.

Somehow – and I really can only thank the Holy Spirit for how  – my ears were positioned in the direction of the Creator.

And immediately a wave of peace that transcends understanding drew a Focus out of the fog of stress I felt like I’d been drowning in.

A clear, new vision of how to help the 8-year-old settled gently into the forefront of my mind. (It arose out of suddenly recalling my mother’s patient, loving response to my own childhood insomnia.)

Quiet and calm dismantled and replaced the fierce tension that had had its grip on the room. At the same time my son’s aspect shifted too, from resistance to acceptance of my help. Instead of feeling frantic about not sleeping, he acquiesced, okay to Just Rest in the meantime.

For weeks I had prayed dearly for God’s love and peace and Rest to suffuse my boy’s troubled thoughts. While I had been consumed with transforming his mind, the suffusion that happened – the transformation that pushed a giant reset button on the whole ugly mess of this Storm – came first in my own mind.

The wave of peace has remained (which is probably the part that most transcends my understanding). It became a Road that I am following, guided as best as I can be by my Listening ears, into more peace.

 

Verse notes: Philippians 4:7; Romans 12:2

 

Inquiring

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Tonight my son, the bedtime-feet-dragger, was seated on the bathroom carpet behind me, loading his toothbrush more cheerfully than usual. Standing at the sink I could make out some kind of low chanting he was repeating.

Bracing for an all-too-typical bedtime refrain of complaint, I asked him what he was saying – and out came amazing-answer-to-a-query number One: “I’m singing,” he said. “We won’t be shaken… We won’t be shaken…”

What was that? You were just absent-mindedly singing a song of faith and strength to yourself? Maybe all our chats about the Truth and Source of inner courage were working?

“Oh, that’s neat, sweetie,” I said lightly, giving a mental high-five to the Lord above. “I like hearing you sing that.”

Suddenly the thought came to me that he might be encouraged to know that those words came from the bible, that the songs on his “Sleep” playlist were inspired by – were actually of – the Word itself.

Following him down the hall to his room, I quickly searched “won’t be shaken” into my bible app and up popped no fewer than five verses that would do wonderfully for my “object lesson.” (Amazing-answer-to-a-query number Two.)

What a kick he got out of seeing the words right there in their scriptures of origin(!), which until then he’d only known as lyrics by a pop band, scrolling up a phone screen as the song played out.

What a joy I received, to have listened, and to have asked.

 

(Verse note: Psalm 62:6)

Hydra vs the Strong Tower

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Boat launch

Wednesday, 11:11 PM, between chores

My entering-third-grade boy is going through a stage (hopefully?) of intense fear come bedtime. He has instituted a growing stack of superstitious rituals in the earnest hope that they will overcome his anxiety about going to bed –  actually about pretty much anything involved with getting ready for bed or for starting the day  –  alone.

He brushes teeth and dons or doffs PJs in the family room, and plaintively calls for someone (typically me) to stand next to the door when using the bathroom. When it’s time to head upstairs he flicks on every light in advance of his path, and in his room has rigged up an old cell phone to play his favorite playlist of “spirit music” on repeat through the night.

The focal point of his tuck-in routine is the prayer we say –  or rather, which I usually say while he assumes the apparently optimal blessing-receiving position, neatly clasping hands near his chin and closing his eyes until the Amen.

On this particular night we needed two rounds of tuck-in, the first ending essentially in hysteria after I refused to turn the ceiling lights back on (that’s all six canisters of them) as I left the room (with the night light on and door open, let the record show).

I’m afraid to say I did not keep my cool when he followed me, howling, down the stairs. I in fact lost it – lost my temper, lost my mind, however you care to put it – and it was ugly.  Many utterly exasperated, had-it-up-to-here-and-beyond words were hurled by me.

“YOU NEED TO TELL YOUR BRAIN YOU ARE OKAY!” I shouted. Multiple times. Which led to an even more exasperated conversation about how exactly one does that – but which did produce a sound argument for standing on the Truth of all the ways in which he and his life are blessed beyond measure by a Father in heaven who loves him beyond measure.

He seemed to get it, at least a little. The house volume had returned to night-time quiet. I helped him get into bed again, but this time without all the embellishments. He asked in a small voice dialed precisely to my heartstrings for “just a prayer?” which I agreed to but insisted he start this time.

With a small voice he pressed through some faltering to ask God to help him not be scared, and (with some line prompts) to say thank you God for being his almighty protector, stronger than any darkness or dark thought* that could give him worry. “For You are our fortress… our strong tower…”

All of which – all all all of which – I need to remember in my own day (after day, lately) filled with fears and anxieties.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the
Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge
and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

Amen.

 

* Hydras and chupacabras, for example, described in graphic detail at day camp all summer, curse those fourth graders!

 

(Verse note: Psalm 91)

Tangled

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Wednesday, 10:22 PM: Hacking through thatches.

The Bog has been getting the best of me. I’ve been circling above my blog site for weeks, mentally searching the empty, blank space of the Next Post for a glimpse of a fish in the white water: the clear, Inspired Insight that would propel me to plunge in and pour out a compelling paragraph or three.

Waiting for some invisible referee to blow a whistle and announce that I am actually qualified to do this.

Hoping that enough prayers and petitions with thanksgiving would move the holy Muse to overcome my sadness about the state of my gnarly hope, my unsteady Walk, such as it is.

Wondering if Needing To Forgive [important organization in my life] must be the source of the Bog block … Or is it simply lack of enough sleep lately to sustain a guinea pig?

This morning’s Word was compelling though, I have to admit. There it was, staring me right in the face even as I had been composing in my mind my daily confession of impotence as a writer (in the face of the Bog):

And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

I can’t even recall how I got there, except that the Book was already open to Romans and I just… started reading.

And that was a whole 18 hours ago, basically a lifetime in my hectic world of work and children and the 57th day of hot, dusty sunny summer burning the edges of my sight and exhausting me from squinting.

I’m glad I sat down and started typing anyway.

 

(Verse note: Romans 10:14)

 

Truly knowing him?

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Sunlight, illuminating mud

Thursday, 2:49 PM, background musings while I work:

This truth is carrying me through.

Writing is a bit cryptic today, I hope not too cryptic.

If a friend who knows my faith walk were to ask me today, “How are you doing,” (as in, “Where are you, spiritually”), I would answer in a way that is new, for me; new after a long, long, stretch of open anxiety and inner grief. I would answer that I’ve grasped a sliver of truth – a certain peaceful truth. And that this truth is carrying me through trouble (like, actual trouble).

This truth is carrying me through.

It’s a confidence that comes from deep in the center, the core, my soul.

It is the Spirit’s confidence pushing through. And it sustains and uplifts me through the turbulence I’m experiencing in my relationship with [important organization in my life] and in my relationship with [important person in my life] right now. There are very real sadnesses in those areas, but having gotten a hold – by just one tiny finger – of the golden ring (a life preserver!) of this sliver of a certain peaceful truth, my soul is lifted up, just above the dark water. My soul stays steadier. Not glassy calm. But markedly, undeniably, steadier.

Though my heart breaks daily over some legitimate troubles in my life, my soul is more at rest than it has been in a long, long time.

This is new. To be aware of the trouble, yet not rocked by the trouble. Amazing.

Seeking and listening for truth – true Truth, if you will –  seems at last to be bearing fruit.

 

(Verse note: John 8:32)

Deeper still

20170712_aWednesday, 6:50 AM

For a year now, I’ve been consistently devoting, as they say, the first five minutes of my day to reading scripture and praying. Spending time with God, as they say. This is likely one hundred percent non-impressive to seminary students or anyone raised in the evangelical church, but for me, it’s an actual achievement.

At this juncture, however, I’m tempted to write off the practice as simplistic. Shallow. Even empty at times. After all, I’m talking to him all day long – consulting, petitioning, thanking. What’s so special to him (or me), about my habit of sitting down, confronting the blank journal page and open Bible, and recording the thoughts and/or inspirations that may come/or not come?

It’s hard to press through discouragement sometimes, to take a deep mental breath and reach through the thick and thorny brush of my pessimism, pull the book within reading range. Slow down the thoughts that, from the moment I rise, are already racing, planning, spinning the day… and listen to the Voice behind the verses.

But in my soul I know, as the scholarly saints of old and of today (who are, I want to emphasize, most definitely not me) know, that there’s always more to be heard.

That devoting the first five hours of your day would not get you to the end of the river of Life; would not exhaust the Love that is waiting to pour into your words and actions, should you open to receive it.

What’s amazing is that I still resist.

 

 

 

(Verse note Mark 10: 45)

First and second reading

Gossamer wisps

Tuesday, 6:14 AM, reading Mark: “His eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

This morning, that’s what happened to me, too. (OK, maybe not everything is clear. And maybe it’s been taking place over more than just this morning.)

But those scriptural words hooked my bleary attention, somehow reaching me through my foggy brain. (Oy. It was early.)

The line seems redundant: Yes, he sees now, we get it. But actually, just prior, this man was  in state of seeing people dimly, as “trees walking around.” And just before that he was fully blind.

His sight gets progressively better.

A few verses later Peter tries to intercede in the future suffering Jesus predicts for himself. But Jesus rebukes his disciple, and he isn’t delicate about it. “Get behind me, Satan!” isn’t a correction you’d expect even from a mean teacher. Jesus further chastises him for focusing on mere human issues rather than those of God (v.33).

Good grief. In the past I would have taken this story as a command not to value anything of my own mundane life in comparison to lofty goals for the glory of God. (Exactly what those noble goals would be, I’m not sure. But they would be glorious.)

I would have felt condemned for feeling attached to any of my earthly concerns instead of self-sacrifice in the name of God. (Esh, I hope I didn’t scare anyone there. Just telling it like it was.)

But now I think Jesus was issuing a specific, in-context warning. Peter had just declared Jesus is Christ. The Messiah! Peter’s sure of that much (v. 29), yet he’s still blind to the ultimate mission that Jesus is on.

“Can’t you see?”  Jesus is asking. “I have to do this, go through this coming ordeal — and you have to let me, if you know who I am. What else am I here for? Don’t even think to hinder me in this!”

And with that ultimate mission now complete, our earthly life’s concerns are mercifully (fused and) infused with the Spirit.

The blind man sees progressively more clearly. I see progressively more clearly.

(Verse note: Mark 8:22-33)

Confidence in what we hope for

Monday, 10:22 PM, indulgently stroking the dog’s velvet ears. The benched dog, whose time on the DL is approaching the third week, with at least another to go. Who sports the “cone” with resignation and whose pitiful malaise reaches my heart. I stoop to pet him and, giving in to sympathy, hunker down further for ear-scratching and head rubbing (still in the cone), putting off the dozen chores left to do before bed. For the next minute, at least, he’s happy again, smiling through his “jowly folds,” as we call them, eyes closed in bliss. I wistfully wish I could instantly cure his condition – a cocktail of minor yet majorly inconvenient ills and injuries.

It occurs to me, in the quiet moment, that when you comfort an unhappy animal, or a child at bedtime, it’s not as much the hand-holding or the petting itself, that they long for you to stay and keep giving. The physical contact, however pleasant or familiar it is, only lasts for exactly as long as it’s delivered. They (we all) long for true comfort, lasting comfort. The kind that leaves your spirit relieved that all really isn’t as scary or sad as it seemed a few minutes ago, and in fact there is behind the curtain of fear or frustration, a glorious confident assurance that not only will it be Okay, it already is Okay. And will be Okay, too. And the confidence is what stays after the petting and hand-holding stops. And the confidence is your faith, grown when it’s given – and when it’s received.

(Verse note Heb 11:1)